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About this poet

Born in Vineland, New Jersey, on March 8, 1949, Michael Blumenthal grew up in a German-speaking home in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. He received his BA in philosophy from the State University of New York in Binghamton in 1969, and his JD from Cornell Law School in 1974. From 1985 to 1986, he studied clinical psychology at Antioch University and worked in private practice as a psychotherapist with Anglophone expatriates in Budapest.

Blumenthal's debut collection, Sympathetic Magic (Water Mark Press, 1980), received the Water Mark Poets of North America First Book Prize. His other collections include, most recently, No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012), And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999), winner of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize.

In his foreword to Blumenthal's first book, Charles Fishman wrote: "Like Gerald Stern or David Ignatow, Blumenthal has a genuine comic gift as well as a broad, deep sensibility that encompasses and transforms nearly everything he touches—nearly everything that touches him."

About his work, Grace Schulman has said, "Michael Blumenthal has the intelligence to sort out complexities, the innocence to see the world new, and the craft to combine those often incompatible qualities."

Also the author of fiction and nonfiction, Blumenthal has published “Because They Needed Me”: The Incredible Struggle of Rita Miljo to Save the Orphaned Baboons of South Africa (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2015), Just Three Minutes, Please: Thinking Out Loud on Public Radio (Vandalia Press, 2013), and All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, 2002), among others.

Blumenthal has also published various prose translations, as well as And Yet: Selected Poems of Péter Kántor (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2009). In 2009, he received the poetry prize of the Society for Contemporary Literature in German.

His other honors include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1985, he was selected by the poet Howard Nemerov to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Blumenthal has lived in, and taught at universities in, Hungary, Israel, Germany, and France. He has served as the Copenhaver Distinguished Visiting Chair in Law and is presently a visiting professor at West Virginia University Law School.


Bibliography

Poetry

No Hurry: Poems 200-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012)
And (BOA Editions, 2009)
Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999)
The Wages of Goodness (University of Missouri Press, 1992)
Against Romance (Viking/Penguin, 1987)
Days We Would Rather Know (Viking/Penguin, 1984)
Laps (University of Massachusetts Press, 1984)
Sympathetic Magic (Water Mark Press, 1980)

Nonfiction

“Because They Needed Me”: The Incredible Struggle of Rita Miljo to Save the Orphaned Baboons of South Africa (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2015)
Just Three Minutes, Please: Thinking Out Loud on Public Radio (Vandalia Press, 2013)
All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, 2002)
When History Enters the House: Essays from Central Europe, 1992-1996 (Pleasure Boat Studios, 1998)

Fiction

The Greatest Jewish-American Lover in Hungarian History: Stories (Etruscan Press, 2014)
Weinstock Among the Dying: A Novel (Zoland Books, 1993)

Jew

Michael Blumenthal, 1949
for Isaac Bashevis Singer


The melancholy of Chopin and cruel breathing
folds back your sheets,
and you rise like lightly leavened bread,
like all the old, arthritic Jews left in the world,
from your Sabbatical sleep.

You rise and wipe the crusted blood
from your doorpost, kiss the angled mezuzah,
and are grateful you have again been spared
the pestilence and the lice,
the hailstones and the fissuring earth,
the ambiguous knife of Abraham.

You go to the window, and through the Jew-eyes
of this life you watch children stomp
their booted feet against the sidewalk,
grandmothers and grandfathers sew yellow stars
onto their lapels and wrap their hungry bones
in the long phylacteries.

It is 1979, you know it, but you have slept
like a Jew. And dreamt like a Jew. And the dreams
of all the persecuted Jews (the Jews chased
by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Jews
converted by the Egyptians and the Romans and
the Hari Krishnas, the Jews baked like strudel
and refined into lampshades by the resourceful Germans)
swim like fresh sperm into the ovaries of your sleep,
and you wake, pregnant and nauseous with Jew
and with history
and with your ambivalent God.

And then you go to the table,
and (though you never believed
God could enter through your mouth)
you eat like a Jew,
you feel the milk that does not want to sleep
with the meat, and the meat that does not want
to sleep with the milk, and you feel
the stones of some vague guilt, the stones
of immer Morgen, Morgen
of the anxious bridegroom, Doom,
and the reluctant bride, Joy,
turn in your stomach like the ballast of some
Hassidic boat that refuses to sail on the Sabbath.
And it is always the Sabbath.

And then you go to your bed,
and you make love to your wife like a Jew,
with your desperate tongue and your mutilated penis
and your envy of womanhood grown so large
you are the best lover in the world, better
than Robert Redford and all the goyische skiers,
better than the Black athletes with their beautiful,
round buttocks that turn like greased bearings
in your wife's Jew-hating dreams.

From Sympathetic Magic, published by Water Mark Press in 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

From Sympathetic Magic, published by Water Mark Press in 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

Michael Blumenthal

Michael Blumenthal

Born in 1949, Michael Blumenthal is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012), And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999), winner of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize.

by this poet

poem
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it,
Lawns groomed in prose, with hardly a stutter.
Lloyd hits the ball, and Lorraine fetches it.

Mom hangs the laundry, Fred, Jr., watches it,
Shirts in the clichéd air, all aflutter.
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it.

A dog drops a bone, another dog snatches it.
poem
If you are terrified of your own death,
and want to escape from it,
you may want to write a poem,
for the poem might carry your name
into eternity, the poem
may become immortal, beyond flesh
and fashion, it may be read
in a thousand years by someone
as frightened of death as you are,
in a dark field, at night,
poem
[I] retrace by moonlight the roads where I used to play in the sun.
                                                 — Marcel Proust


At night, when I go out to the field
to listen to the birds sleep, the stars
hover like old umpires over the diamond,
and I think back upon the convergences
of bats and balls, of